National Geographic : 1957 Feb
Long Hair Frames the Face of a Bedouin Cameleer Layers of clothing protect the desert dweller during furnace days in the Empty Quarter or icebox nights on the 6,000-foot plateau. The shawl covers mouth and nose on dusty roads. This nomad, in Saiun's bazaar, shows the features of an Arab. African strains are also prevalent. Ascending to the Jau Khudaif, we drove in a wide arc northwestward to Beihan Qasb. We arrived at night and, as we approached the village compound, a fusillade of rifle shots greeted us. Naturally enough, we ducked. But the bar rage was no more than a jovial salute from Sharif Husain and his retinue. In futa and turban, bearded like a prophet yet with a twinkle in his eye, Husain came forward. With him was his son Amir Salih, for whom he had acted as regent until the past year. "Ahlan wa sahlan," they declared. "This is your people and your land." "God increase your wealth," I replied. "We have come a long way." Graciously Husain led us to his offices, where we refreshed ourselves with coffee seasoned with car damom, and thence to his sleeping quarters, located in a tower. Moving out to make room for us, he put me. as consul, on the topmost floor of honor. On the next level he placed a British officer who had ridden in with us and, on the floor just above the storerooms, my wife and Mrs. Griffiths. The social stratification was distinct and explicit. That night we rejoined the sharif for a state din ner. Spread out on mats were great baskets of chicken and eggs, lamb and rice, pickled fruits and vegetables. From time to time Husain would thoughtfully select a choice morsel from the common platter and pass it to me. Afterward, a servant brought rose water to pour over our hands. Next day I noted sev eral involuntary guests of the sharif-gaunt and tat tered prisoners hobbling about the public square in chains. They were, I suspected, hostages from other tribes, for the practice is still rife in all southern Arabia of securing a neighbor's goodwill and cooperation by holding his son or cousin or uncle as collateral. Another medieval custom which, fortu nately, occurs now much less often than it used to, is the trial by fire. To determine whether or not a suspect is telling the truth, the interrogator applies a red-hot iron to his tongue. If the iron leaves a scar, the man is a liar. The trial by food (lukhmat al khanuq) is similar: The victim must swallow a piece of hard dry bread. If he chokes or coughs, the truth is not in him.